Finding Solace in Companion Dogs

Early this spring I attended a briefing about the importance of dogs in the medical treatment, recovery, and quality of life of Veterans. Not having been around this much, I had no idea the integral role that animals, particularly dogs, play in the lives of Veterans, especially when it comes to keeping them independent.

So I wanted to share with you a new pilot program at the Marion VA Medical Center in Illinois that’s moving beyond the idea that dogs are only for guide purposes. The focus has shifted to their companionship and therapeutic potential. The dogs-in-residence will be trained by the non-profit This Able Veteran. As the president of the group Behesha Doan explains, she often meets soldiers who come back from combat and are disappointed with how they have changed.

“The dog does not know who that person was,” Doan said. “This dog loves who you are now.

The pilot program will begin late this summer, and will be run out of Marion’s Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (RRTP) facility, which is a 17,000 square foot center where up to 14 Veterans can stay while they receive structured residential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other disorders. Visit RRTP to find out more.

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44 Comments to “Finding Solace in Companion Dogs”

  1. Ty Kinsey says:

    I am a Desert Storm Vet and I saw the recent info about treating PTSD vets with the “prescription” of a dog. I convinced my doctor to let me give it a try, and he agreed. The best part was because it was recommended by the doctor, my apartment waived pet deposits, breed and weight restrictions, and monthly pet rent. I was worried about this because it would have ran me another $400 to have a dog. It’s been great having another beating heart around at night that depends on me. I truly believe in this practice and recommend it to others.

    • donna hume says:

      I think this is wonderful therapy for anyone. Thank you for your service to our country! Any therapuetic programs to help the medical field to help our Veterans on returning is #1 in my book.

    • Rebecca Bosworth says:

      Ty,

      My name is Rebecca Bosworth and I am a graduate student at California State University Fresno. My degree is in Social work. I want to do my thesis project of Veterans with PTSD who have therapy dogs. I am having difficulty getting Veterans information from the therapy dogs corporations. My project would require a Veteran to fill out a anonymous questionnaire, regarding how their therapy dogs have helped them with their PTSD. would you be willing to participate in my project? School starts next Monday and I will be working on the particulars soon. this is a very important issue for me and I would like to be able to continue it. My father is a Marine Viet Nam Veteran and is involved in the military funerals in our mountain community. If you are willing to communicate with me by e-mail, my address is littlemisred@mail.fresnostate.edu

      If not, I wish you well and thank you so much for your service to our country.

  2. I am also a gulf war veteran and my german sheperd has saved me from absolute mental devastation.He is always there for me when I get sad,cry or freak the F out.If it was not for him I would not be going back to university.By the way ..he gets to go to classes with me and that helps to keep me calm.

    • SFC (Ret) James Laubler says:

      I agree Jimmy. I happened on my dog while wandering around. I decided to see what the city pound was like.

      There he was. All the barking, jumping, cowering, etc. going on in all the other cages. He sat there next to the door and looked into my eyes as if to say “I’m a pretty good guy”. I’ve noticed my attitude seems better with him around to play ball. #2 dog is with me about half a year. She lays beside my desk and loves to lay on my chest. I’ve been wondering if I could get my VA Shrink to classify these dogs. Then, maybe, I can take them with me on the plane without paying $250. Hell. They’re only 14 pounds each.

      • Jeremy says:

        The VA shrink can’t classify your dog no one can. Research the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are many trainers out there who can train your dog. No one can require your dog to be registered but the dog does have to have specific training that relates to your disability. Once you do that then you can take your dog on the plane. Unfortunately you will most likely only get to take one and that is due to the limit by the aviation industry. I did something similar. I have a dog who works very well with my PTSD and TBI. I had him trained, although according to the ADA you can do the training your self, and once he was trained he can accompany me anywhere to include a plane. FYI if you have a service dog, yes it is considered a service dog not a therapy dog for PTSD and TBI, there are only two questions you can be asked and they are yes or no questions, “Is that a service dog?” and “Does the dog perform tasks related to your dissability?” But be careful if your dog is not yet trained to perform tasks related to your disability and you represent your dog as a service dog you can be charged criminally. Good luck. Check out this website, http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

        • MEGHAN says:

          Jeremy, where did you have your dog trained at? Everyone I’ve tried to get with has told me they don’t train personal dogs, they only train dogs that they have since puppies :(

  3. Ramona Maassen says:

    I am a vet with PTSD. Our ladies PTSD group has known this for years. Nearly all of us have pets that we depend on to help us cope. Glad to know that the VA is recognizing their value.

  4. Kimm Little says:

    This is great. I have been searching through the web for something like this for our Veterans with PTSD. I recently found an organization in South Bend to help him out. Thanks again for posting this.

  5. Ellen McCarthy says:

    I hope you realize that a Companion, Therapy, and Emotional Support Animals are not Service Dogs. All of these kinds of “pets” aren’t allowed public access under the ADA and the Rehab Act (Veterans)..

    We’re having a problem nationwide that Veterans are having their doctors signing them off a dog to help w/ their PTSD, etc.. In fact if the dog dosen’t have 2 yrs of extensive training then its not a Service Dog. My Service Dog has been attacked a couple times w/ so call “ESA, Companion” Dogs at the VA Hospital.. All of them stated that its their companion who makes me feel good.

    I hope that this VA Hospital understands that none of these dogs will be allowed public access… We have to stop these free companions for Vets before it gets out of hand.

    This is the newest from the ADA — Mar 15,2011

    How “Service Animal” Is Defined

    Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

    This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

    Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

    • Susan says:

      You are absolutely correct on this. There is a HUGE difference between Service Animals and Therapy…et al animals. The VA and all other entitites need to be educated on this. I work in a military hospital and while some of the soldiers I see could benefit from such a dog, by pure definition the dog could not be considered a “service” dog.

    • Jeremy says:

      You stated, “In fact if the dog dosen’t have 2 yrs of extensive training then its not a Service Dog.” This statement is incorrect. The ADA does not require specific training nor does it mandate a minimum amount of time required for training. All the dog, or other animal, has to do is perform tasks that are relevant to the disability of the person requiring the animal and PTSD is a disability, that does require training but that training can be performed by the owner of the dog or a professional and it doesn’t matter how long it took to train the dog, the only certification I recommend is to go through the AKC canine good citizen course and get the dog certified as a canine good citizen. Again not required but recommended. Also I would like to point out that any state law regarding service animals is over ruled by the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act. So if the ADA doesn’t require something the state can’t either. Further you do not have to provide documentation nor can any one demand documentation that a dog is a service dog. Be warned though that if you misrepresent a dog as a service dog and the dog is not you can be held criminally liable and be criminally charged.

    • bruce says:

      your comment needs to be a little more positve. did you know Senator Franken got a law passed about veterans’ service dogs? please don’t be so negative about what a service dog is when you obviously know that if it is for ptsd and/or tbi the dog, if trained as such, is good to go.

    • Brian Murphy says:

      Dear Ms Ellen McCarthy;

      If you are going to quote a Federal Regulation you need to quote the entire regulation especially to those who are very familiar with Federal regulations like veterans or active military personal. We deal with regulations all of our lives and they are never written plan and simple as you have quoted. So I am going to help those who might take you for your word about what a service animal is and what their duties are, so that I don’t misquote I have copied the regulation and then posted it as follows:

      U.S. Department of Justice
      Civil Rights Division
      Disability Rights Section

      Service Animals

      The Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for title II (State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) on September 15, 2010, in the Federal Register. These requirements, or rules, clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new, and updated, requirements, including the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).
      Overview

      This publication provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the service animal provisions in the Department’s new regulations.

      Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.
      A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
      Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.
      How “Service Animal” Is Defined

      Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

      This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader…

  6. John Roane says:

    My American Bull Dog,who I have since she was 12 weeks old, has saved my life twice over the last ten years. She woke me in the early hours alerting me to a medical condition if not corrected at once migth have me dead by sunrise. She also steadies me when walking and alerts me to possible issues. The great part is she trained herself but that means she not looked at as a service dog by most. Where and how do I get her rated as a service dog?

    • Robin says:

      Did you get any replies to your Question? I had the same question, and was hoping for an answer. Thanks. Robin.

  7. Cara Radford says:

    I was wondering who/how I get my dogs prescribed to me, I suffer from PTSD, and I have found that they calm me better then anything. Would like to validate my claims.
    Any advice is greatly appreciated
    Thanks

  8. Eric S. says:

    I’m a non-combat veteran diagnosed with PTSD, which makes it difficult to get any type of help from the VA. That aside. Would someone please give a step by step guide as to how to get a/your pet registered/Trained to become a Service Animal.

    I am a simple minded veteran and need to know the basic steps and who/what entity must be the certifying agency to get this certification for our pets.

    ANy help is, as always, much appreciated.

    Gy Berg USMC Retired

  9. Randy Cruz says:

    MY DR put me on that road I found southern guide dogs and now am in
    the app. pross. PTSD for 36 1/2 years I tell myself every day I wont
    let PTSD enemy beat me.

  10. MC says:

    There are a lot of organizations out there were you can get a trained PTSD Service Dog. but the wait list is long.
    I have a PTSD Service Dog that is trained to help me when I have a panic attack and also alert me if anyone is in my home upon returning from the store (helpful for someone with MST).
    I would still get a letter from your mental healthcare provider for your dog. You will need one if you intend to fly with your service dog (new regulation). Also, you will need one if you rent and wish for your emotional support dog or service dog to fall under the ADA.
    Here is a great site and you can call them: http://www.psychdog.org/training.html
    Most VA mental healthcare providers do not have a clear understanding of the ADA regulations or the legal definition of Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog. Please DO NOT take your dog into public places (to include the VA) without the proper training. It makes it harder for those of us with trained Service Dogs.

  11. Veteran with Service Dog says:

    Your dog does not have to have 2 years of training to be considered a service dog. Your dog does have to be trained and there are many places that are doing it free for the Veterans.

    I have a Service dog that I bring into work with me everyday. I also work at a VA. There have been times that people have tried to get me say that my dog is a support dog and not a Service Dog. Mine is a Service Dog and does many things for me. Ask your doctor to support you getting a service dog by writting a letter and then find a place that trains them and will give you one. Right now there sould be no reason for a veteran to have money come out of pocket. Many places that are giving the Service dogs to the vets have a waiting list so if this something you want to do research and do it. I feel some much better having her with me.

  12. Desmon Farris says:

    Hello I am under going an MEB for PTSD and they are Most likely going to TDRL me. I am a trained MWD Handler and when i get out i will be moving back To nothern VA i would love to work with you and poosibly train dogs in basic OB and stuff as the only thing that calmed me Down in the AOR was My K9 companion. Please email me more about your program Desmon123@hotmail.com

  13. Nadeaux says:

    My dog Gunny is my companion and yes, when I’m in that “state of mind” I find solace when we are together

  14. i have been dealing with my va on getting vet card for my service dog since last september. my pmr now has all doctors noted sittinf for a month a pmr chief. my prosthetics sent me thru years worth appts with doctors . i am first one to attempt this. all questions been answered. my dog spirit ha attended va winter clinic, accompanies over a yeer to all my va appts no problems. but my hospital uninformed. loma linda va california. i have talked to pam westburg at regional va she told me to go to patient advocatew which i did last month. no help. prosthetice set me up with pmr appt and doctor said they couldnt be involved. so now sitting at pmr heads cheryl hardcastle and dr. lee. still havent contacted me or paam westburg at national i corner them in hall ways and they say still in working. imse where other vets at my hospital quit. i wont. what a frustation. spirit will be attending va wheelchair games coming soon. she is a great help to mobility and otsd. she keeps me active in the real world and helps other vets. she has her calif service dog tag. i love her.

  15. James Blake says:

    I had been seeing a therapist for almost 5 years to help me with my PTSD and depression. After a suicide attempt last January, I was prescribed an emotional support dog by my psychiatrist. I have had my black lab Halo for 16 months now and she is a blessing. She is very sensitive to my moods and will stand by me when I’m having a panic attack or get weepy or in a dark mood. Talk to your medical professionals. It makes a big difference.

    • Rebecca Bosworth says:

      James,

      My name is Rebecca Bosworth and I am a graduate student at California State University Fresno. My degree is in Social work. I want to do my thesis project of Veterans with PTSD who have therapy dogs. I am having difficulty getting Veterans information from the therapy dogs corporations. My project would require a Veteran to fill out a anonymous questionnaire, regarding how their therapy dogs have helped them with their PTSD. would you be willing to participate in my project? School starts next Monday and I will be working on the particulars soon. this is a very important issue for me and I would like to be able to continue it. My father is a Marine Viet Nam Veteran and is involved in the military funerals in our mountain community. If you are willing to communicate with me by e-mail, my address is littlemisred@mail.fresnostate.edu

      If not, I wish you well and thank you so much for your service to our country.

  16. I have a doberman as my service dog and yes, he is certified as a mobility and medical alert service dog. I am an owner/trainer and I went through the Service Dogs of Florida Service School to get him trained. The Tampa VA doesn’t know it’s ass from a hole in the ground. The prosthetics section keeps forwarding my mental health notes to VACO rather than the notes from my primary care physician which detail the PHYSICAL tasks Rocco performs for me. Because of that, I’ve been denied twice already for benefits for my dog. It’s very, very frustrating. I’ve gotten help from VACO and Christina Roof at AMVETS, but it never seems to be enough.

    Yes, the VA says they are approving service dogs, excluding PTSD dogs, but since there is no standard for applying, there isn’t a single VA Hospital that takes claims the same way for approval. Every Veteran I’ve talked to has had a battle on their hands when trying to file for service dog benefits. My advice is to continue to apply. Don’t stop the fight. Keep bombarding them with requests. Eventually they will get tired of us and we will get approved when the realize we won’t go away!

    Good luck, Friends. For more information on service dog applications, check out my blog at http://www.onewearysoldier.blogspot.com. Enjoy it!

  17. Rick Macool says:

    well I knew nothing of this until Now..since My service in SWA i have had five surgeries..also I deal with dreams that keep me from sleeping Bad sinus and breathing Issue’s.and rotten as hell stomach…I have leaned on dog after Dog since my return I usally have aleast two with Me..it helps me there buddy’s – no matter what.even had a dog that I hung out with at KKMC is suadi Arabia Called him Duke…he hated Hodggies .. LOL .. dogs are good medicine.

  18. Lisa Pearson says:

    Hi!
    I just happened upon this site while looking for forms to print out for my husband. My husband is a Disabled Viet Nam Veteran who was just diagnoised with PTSD delayed onset. I read the article about using dogs as companion/service dogs and everyones comments, I found all of this very interesting. I think and feel that a companion/service dog would benefit my husband greatly, so now I have more research to do to find out about obtaining and training a dog.
    Good luck to you all.
    Thank You for Your Service to Our Country!

  19. i am a 100% disabled vet and i have a dog hes a mut that found me one day and i have had him for almost 14 years. hes not had any high dollar training like all your dogs, but he is the absolute best thing that happened to me im sorry i just don’t get all this money that has to be spent on these dogs?? of corse im not one of the latest war heros, im one of the old forgotten ones, (vietnam vets) the vets that don’t count anymore! if i sound a bit bitter your right, considering how we were treated when we came home, and how you all are given homes cars education for your kids and anything eles you want, i don’t see how you all can look yourselfs mirror, i realize this will never be posted or even fully read, but it does make me feel a little better

    • Paul Grasso says:

      Rich .. Let me first start by saying thank you for your service. Second let me apologize for all those that did not know better. Third I would ask you not to begrudge your fellow vets, as in a fire fight luck is in the draw of the cards or if you believe divine intervention. Any help for any vet should be embraced. While I can understand how speaking your peace may have made you feel better I would almost guarantee if you were to see any of the K9′s make a difference in the life of a fellow vet you would also feel better. I came to this site looking for information to assist other vets with this possibility. I am glad to have found these resources, having read every one of the posts yours was the one I felt compelled to respond to. Again a heart felt thanks to you and all the others who returned and were afraid to wear the uniform of their county. I do find peace in knowing you made a connection with a soul that does not know how to judge.. a K9 Peace be with you Brother.

    • Sharon Phillips says:

      Rick, you are not the only Vietnam Vet who feels forgotten, my best friend, a retired gunny Marine Corps sargent who served 3 tours in Vietnam does too and so do thousands of you boys. And maybe the general public and perhaps the government has forgotten you, but there are some of us civies who have not and will not ever forget the god awful job you were asked to do and did well. God bless you. And Thank You. We do remember, we always will.

  20. Charles Hernandez says:

    The best thing to nature…I was secluded and hated everyone, even myself. I was afraid and just did not care about myself anymore. It came to a point that I just wanted to be alone, even break away from my family, especially from my children because I felt helpless, hopeless and less desireable….Until I met a dog, a special dog with glasses on, he distracted my mood, actually made me move a facial muscle and I sat there and this dog….G*d bless him that day, he was heaven sent….I hard a hard time adjusting, ECAD (Education Canines Assisting with Disability)just opened my life, my dog Valor is my friend, companion, and savior. He saved the world because of my attitude, ways and being. He knows how to take me away from a situation and I look at him, and he looks at me….I know to stay cool and alive…..He brought life back into me………….

    • Paul Grasso says:

      Charles… Thank you for sharing your story. You have provided me a means to possiably help another Vet. One who may never know you, but yet you may be link to his finding a friend, companion, and savior. God works in starnge ways; a closed door is not meant to be closed forever and once open knowone knows where it may take you. God bless you and thank you.

  21. Chuck Taft says:

    I am just an ordinary person and has a lovely dog. I really love my dog and everywhere I go he follow me. Anyways, I pretty like this articles and I like reading on it.

  22. Carlyle says:

    Therapy Dogs have been proven time and time again to be wonderful companion dogs.

  23. D Raff says:

    I did not realize just how important the right dog can mean to a vet with PTSD. My 13 year old SharPai/Retriever mix passed away two years ago and until that time was almost a constant companion. She was very protective of me and stayed between me and a stranger especially when they were behind me. I feel that she sensed my anxiety. She also sensed when I was depressed and made efforts to get me to play with her to cheer me up. It worked. Since she passed I had increased depression and anxiety. I have since researched some of the best dogs for this situation and that Greyhounds are a great solution. I am amazed how calming they are. They can also be rescued from race tracks that are closing. They can be fostered or adopted. I wish I could find a training center in Michigan where I can get one trained. I am sure they would help my PTSD problems.

  24. David Simpler says:

    Well, I fully understand my Vietnam Brothers feelings.
    It took 38 years for me to know that PTSD ruined my life, marriages and relations with my children, work relations!
    1967 I was ordered to Vietnam, I owned 2 beagles for hunting. I asked my father to do 2 things for me. Feed the dogs and if I came home, we would hunt together for the first time ever. Or if I didn’t get rid of the dogs.
    Well, this was the closest relationship my father and I ever had. I have had Beagles ever since and will until the end. Many a time I would go out to the kennel crying and talk to the Beagles. My only friends in the world!!!!

    I currently have a kennel of eleven Beagles and would breed to donate a puppy to a Vet for therapudic reasons.
    I just contacted a Lady about this and they are starting a research progam to use scenting dogs for therapy.
    My Beagles have saved my life, NOT my wives or my children!!!!

  25. Ann Lang says:

    My husband has Organic brain syndrom also known as TBI. He is a Vietnam Veteran so he and I are not entitled to all the benifits the post 9/11 Veterans, I recently got him a teacup Chihuahua, Pappy Boyington. Several of our friend have already commented on how he has changed since we got the puppy. I am working with his Mental Health Doctor to get Pappy certified as an Emotional Support Dog so he has all the benifits of a Therapy dog. It doen’t matter on the size just the Heart of the dog to his/her master.

  26. Roseann says:

    I just wanted to make ya’ll aware of Pets for Vets – organizations like this are popping up all over the country.

    God Bless …

    http://p2v.org/

  27. Becki DiLorenzo says:

    I am owner/trainer of my service dog which is a Pug, I suffered from severe panic attacks that got to the point of making me remain locked in my house due to PTSD. I have had my dog for 7 years now and have not had a severe panic attack for years. I started with my Psychiatrist who wrote me a letter that said I would benefit from the use of a service dog and listed some of the different reasons listed in http://www.psychdogs.org. The website lists many ways that a dog can help with your disability for PTSD, remember in order for your animal to be considered a SERVICE DOG it is required to perform one task related to your specific disability. “COMPANION DOGS” and “THERAPY DOGS” are not considered “SERVICE DOGS” and are not protected by the Americans with Disiabilties Act. http://www.deltasociety.org is a website that has helped me over the years, the site gives guidelines on what is required of a service dog, lists different training facilities nationwide and other websites that pertain to service dogs and explain the different classifications. Remember also, owning a service dog is a big responsibility, my dog is with me 24/7 and I wouldn’t have it anyother way. Because my service dog is not a “conventional service dog” I get asked about him all the time, it is a great way to educate the public and become a big service dog advocate. If you get a dog PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE clean up after your animal, not doing so gives all of us with service dogs a bad name. Also, take the time to research the different breeds and find one that works for you and your home situation, Greyhounds are great but need running room, not ideal for apartment living or a Yorkie for a mobility dog, just doesn’t work. I hope this helps some of you because I would be lost without my dog and believe most people with PTSD would benefit from owning one.

  28. Rebecca Bosworth says:

    Becki,

    My name is Rebecca Bosworth and I am a graduate student at California State University Fresno. My degree is in Social work. I want to do my thesis project of Veterans with PTSD who have therapy dogs. I am having difficulty getting Veterans information from the therapy dogs corporations. My project would require a Veteran to fill out a anonymous questionnaire, regarding how their therapy dogs have helped them with their PTSD. would you be willing to participate in my project? School starts next Monday and I will be working on the particulars soon. this is a very important issue for me and I would like to be able to continue it. My father is a Marine Viet Nam Veteran and is involved in the military funerals in our mountain community. If you are willing to communicate with me by e-mail, my address is
    littlemisred@mail.fresnostate.edu

    If not, I wish you well and thank you so much for your service to our country. God Bless and thank you for sharing your story.

    Rebecca

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